Saturday, May 14, 2011

Staying safe

One of the biggest challenges of being a wheelchair user is safety. Something as simple as navigating through a parking lot can be a challenge because if you have to cut through some parking spots, some people can't see you because people are shorter when seated. Same for crossing the streets -- some drivers' instincts are tuned towards people walking, not people rolling.

Similarly, staying safe on public transit is also a challenge for wheelchair users. However, there are some cases I've come across in the TransLink system where safety is not taken into account and could result in serious consequences.

One of the things that happen the most often is bus drivers taking off before passengers in wheelchairs are secured. My most recent incident was last week on the 99 B-Line. I boarded the bus, but the driver was more concerned about his schedule than safety. There was certainly not enough time for me to secure myself before the bus took off; in addition, one of the belts turned out to be broken, leaving me in a precarious situation for my trip. Through the whole trip, the driver was in a mad rush.

Now, I understand drivers needing to stick to a schedule but the potential consequences of an injury or incident due to disregarding safety would dwarf any problems you would have from simply being late. I'm lucky enough to have full hand and arm function but some wheelchair users do not and if they were in my situation, something would have likely happened and the driver would have been in big trouble.

Another common situation I find is on community shuttles. Some shuttle drivers don't use any straps or restraints for wheelchair users, which is apparently a big no-no. I actually did not know this until recently because a) I don't take shuttles often and b) no driver offered restraints or straps. But a few weeks ago when I went to the Vancouver Ability Expo in Yaletown, the shuttle driver took them out and started putting them on.

According to him, shuttle drivers are required to use the straps and restraints. For both trips using shuttles that day, the restraints were used. They take slightly longer than belts and straps on a regular bus but for me, the delay was not by much at all. I wonder how much time was actually "saved" on my previous strapless and restraintless trips.

I don't know if this is a thing going on with the South Surrey shuttles (which my previous trips were on) or if the Vancouver shuttles are more strict about safety. But South Surrey and White Rock shuttle routes are a lot steeper and turbulent, and probably need the restraints more than the Vancouver shuttle routes I've taken.

In a way, I'm surprised more incidents haven't occurred. But I guess if I had an incident happen to me, I'd be hesitant or scared to take transit again. It makes me wonder how many have been scared off conventional transit as a result. So much for integrating people with disabilities into society.


  1. So many people always complain about the buses being late so it's really a trade off between safety and being on time. Someone's always going to end up unhappy.

  2. But for wheelchair users, the potential for mishaps is heightened and the stakes are much higher. Timeliness is one thing but how can you use that as justification if/when something happens? You can't. And if a driver tried to use that as a defence, he will certainly get in all sorts of trouble.